Terrelle Pryor leaves tainted legacy

You can't watch Terrelle Pryor play college football and not be captivated. At his best, the 6-foot-6, 233-pound quarterback is bigger, faster and more elusive than his opponents.

But Terrelle Pryor isn't going to play college football anymore. That's because he found an opponent just as big, just as fast and just as elusive as he. It's not the NCAA or the media or whomever else Pryor might decide to blame for his predicament. If he wants to know who forced him to look for a paying football job a year before he wanted to leave college, he should look in the mirror. Pryor can't feint or sprint past his own behavior.

That behavior already had taken the first five games of his senior season away from him. That's the length of the suspension he received after trading memorabilia for tattoos. Last week, the NCAA's decision to investigate his penchant for driving nice cars put the rest of his senior season in question.

It took little more than a week for Pryor to figure out, like his coach before him, that Ohio State had no place for him any longer. The quarterback abruptly announced through an attorney Tuesday that he would not compete in his senior season "in the best interests of my teammates."

If Pryor had demonstrated that type of selflessness before Tuesday, he wouldn't have needed to cast himself adrift from the shores of the Olentangy. Coach Jim Tressel wouldn't have ended his Ohio State career by trying to cover up the misdeeds of Pryor and his teammates.

You optimists out there might choose to believe Pryor has set aside the star mentality that he first brought to the national stage three years ago. Pryor didn't wait two months past signing day to choose Ohio State because he couldn't make up his mind. He waited because he could.

And to his credit, the statistics under his name should make him the envy of most college football players. He was 31-4 as a starter. He led the Buckeyes to three victories over That Team Up North in three seasons. He led Ohio State to two victories in BCS bowls, including that magical afternoon in the Arroyo Seco 17 months ago. Pryor seemed to come of age in the 2010 Rose Bowl, the last game of his sophomore season. He threw for what were then career highs of 23 completions and 266 yards. Ohio State cruised to a 26-17 victory over Oregon, breaking the Buckeyes' three-game BCS losing streak.

Against the Ducks, Pryor seemed to realize the potential that he had been wearing like a weighted jersey. It looked as if, after two seasons of chafing and squirming, Pryor's improvisational talent and Tressel's conservative nature finally fit together.

That Rose Bowl might serve as the high water mark of his Buckeyes career, but it will not be his legacy. The first thing that comes to mind with Maurice Clarett is not that he led Ohio State to the 2002 national championship. It is that he threw away his football career because he couldn't live by the rules, be they in the NCAA manual or the Ohio criminal code.

Pryor has done nothing felonious. But he has helped drive off the road the most successful decade of football in Buckeyes history. Ohio State has owned Michigan. Ohio State has owned the Big Ten. The Buckeyes seemed to go to more BCS bowls than Brent Musburger.

It's certainly possible that Ohio State will continue to win without Tressel and without Pryor. But Ohio State will not continue to win if the NCAA comes down hard on the Buckeyes. The NCAA knows how to make a program pay for its excess. If found guilty of violations, Ohio State will lose scholarships. It will field teams with fewer players. It might field teams that won't be allowed to play in bowls.

That is the legacy Pryor takes away from Ohio State. It won't be the games he won or the defensive ankles he sprained or those plays where he stayed in the pocket and looked like an honest-to-God quarterback. Pryor will be remembered instead for his role in the scandal that has made Ohio State the latest example of what ails college football.

Pryor might wait and see whether there's a supplemental NFL draft. He might go to Canada, where the bigger field will be to his advantage. If he's as selfless as his statement Tuesday indicated, he ought to make time to deliver a long, heartfelt apology to Ohio State fans. It's not much, but it would be something.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.